It's no secret, life is full of 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows and the brain is wired in a way where the sorrows are stickier than the joys. This wiring has been reinforced so that we can pay quicker and more focused attention to the potential threats that have come our way in the past and survive. After all, we're wired to survive, not be happy, but that doesn't mean a more enduring core sense of well-being isn't possible.
In Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion, I explore the science and practice behind a host of natural anti-depressants (resiliency factors) that we can release in order to gain a sense of inner confidence and a core deep happiness. We can begin to experience that no matter what comes our way, we can be grateful for the good moments and more graceful during the inevitable difficult moments.
One key to overcoming this negativity bias and uncovering happiness is learning to recognize and get space from the self-critical mind and also encourage the positive beliefs about ourselves that the critical mind has buried.
Four simple questions can open us up to and encourage our positive beliefs in ourselves and also install them in the brain creating positive neuroplasticity. In doing this we can become more confident in ourselves and ultimately more resilient (and definitely happier).
Four Questions for Uncovering Happiness
From time to time, you might notice a nourishing thought arise, such as "I'm good enough," "Life is fine as it is," "I'm worthy of love," or "What a beautiful moment." Be on the lookout for these thoughts and when you notice them fan the flame as you play with the following four questions:
- "Is it true?" Because of the strength of our inner critics, our minds are often quick to dismiss positive thoughts, so you may notice a quick "No, it's not true. I'm not really beautiful, worthy of love, good enough [and so on..."
- "Is it possible that it's true?" Here is where we open the door a bit and ask if there is any possibility that it's true, no matter how small our minds may say it is. The answer inevitably here is "Yes, I guess there is a possibility."
- "If you step into that possibility for a moment, how does that make you feel?" Two things can happen here. You may find that fear arises: the fear of the unknown. This can be an opportunity for self-compassion. What would life be like if I stepped into this light? It reminds me of a poem by spiritual author and lecturer Marianne Williamson that starts, "Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure." Remind yourself that it doesn't serve you or the world to be in your small self. However, you might also experience a positive emotion such as joy, contentment, or confidence.
- "Can I allow myself to linger in this feeling for a few moments?" When we allow ourselves to savor what's good, our "good-feeling" neurons fire together. And as psychologist Donald Hebb put it memorably, "Neurons that fire together wire together," promoting resiliency in the future.
What would the days, weeks and months ahead be like if you were more open to this possibility? Try this on right now with any potential positive belief about yourself and see what you notice.
The fact is, the belief we have in our negative thinking is one of our worst habits as a human species and often times doesn't serve us. The positive belief in ourselves could go a long way and my hope is that Uncovering Happiness can help in awakening what I call our "natural anti-depressants" and inspire the hope that having had emotional struggles in the past doesn't mean you need to suffer from them in the same way in the future. There are specific seeds within each and every one of us that if we understand and water, we can literally create a more resilient and joyful life.
As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.